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Apr 20, 2017

Reimagine fashion: A Short History of The Red Carpet 

As the general public we await the follies of celebrities and celebrate and criticize  them pushing style boundaries of showmanship and couture especially on the infamous red carpet. The red carpet is the opulent glittering  pathway that us mere mortals love to fantasize about, it is the ultimate  delineation, of us and them.

Lady Gaga Meat Dress
Lady Gaga Meat Dress

How could we ever forget  Lady Gaga’s Lamb chop dress, complete with a steak headpiece? Or Jennifer Lopez’s plunging greensilk chiffon Versace gown that left nothing to the imagination? Remember Celine Dion’s backwards Christian Dior tuxedo?Or Barbra Streisand’s sheer Scassi pantsuit? And who can forget Bjork’s egg laying moment, dress shaped like a swan by Marian Peioski,  Angelina Jolie’s Versace gown with a high slit revealing her entire right leg, and  Cher’s Bob Mackie showgirl costume?

The significance of a red carpet actually dates back centuries.  Red is the ultimate prestigious color for royalty and aristocracy, and the red carpet has long been rolled out for special occasions.  Using scarlet dyes was a show of status , as the color was difficult  and prohibitively expensive to create

These days the Red Carpet is used primarily by movie stars and celebrities, treated like royalty as they walk down the Red Carpet in their incredible, one-of-a-kind creations. One woman in particular is known for pioneering the notion of extravagant, Red Carpet couture, creating dresses for the Hollywood elite from 1923 to 1957. Her name was Valentina.

Valentina studied drama from 1917 to 1919 which may well account for her dramatic flair. She and her husband fled the Kharkov revolution in Kiev, Russia, landing in New York City in 1923. Together they opened a successful dress shop on Madison Avenue, and

Jennifer Lopez

eventually became part of the Who’s Who elite of New York café society during the Roaring Twenties, enjoying the social whirl.

Always a step ahead, Valentina prided herself on her contrary fashion sense. When the masses were all wearing short skirts, she only wore floor-length gowns; when the fad was plunging necklines, she covered up.

Theatrical, beautiful, a skilled self-promoter, so famous did she become that Valentina became known by her first name only. She frequently posed for photographs, wearing her designs on the Red Carpet. She was known for looking even better in her dresses than many of her clients, and wore them with such bravado that it created a huge demand for her creations.

Designing for both stage and screen, in addition to her Red Carpet creations, Valentina clothed the greats of her time; stars like Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, Mary Martin, Gloria Swanson, Gertrude Lawrence, and Irene Selznick. She also dressed high society, including members of the Vanderbilt and Whitney families. Her unorthodox constructions, using only the finest materials, were timeless creations, almost beyond fashion, and predicated on her belief that the body should be free to move. A proponent of simplicity, Valentina was often quoted as saying, “Simplicity survives the changes of fashion.”

Valentina died in 1989 at age 90. In 2009, a retrospective of her designs opened at the Museum of the City of New York.

by Amelia Fleetwood features writer and former West Coast Associate Editor for Vogue.

Valentina Nicholaevna Sanina Schlee
Valentina Nicholaevna Sanina Schlee